What Is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?

Are you looking to improve your business? You must consider SOP’s or Standard Operating Procedures if you want to see dramatic improvement.

SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure.


Step by Step

Standard Operating Procedures are step-by-step instructions. These instructions inform people how to perform tasks or duties. The aim is to meet quality, performance and uniformity while reducing errors. In addition, they are useful to meet regulations and standards in any particular industry.

A simple representation of this process is below.

Image of Standard Operating Procedure Process
Standard Operating Procedure Process

A Standard Operating Procedure is part of quality control. There are many terms around quality control in any business.

Quality manual, operating procedures, ISO 9001, ISO 9000 family, quality management, employee handbook, policy manual and policies. The list goes on and on.

This area of business is huge.


What is it all for though?

Simply, if you want to stay in business you need to deliver your products to a high standard. The only way you can do this is by ensuring every time you deliver your product or service it meets high quality control standards. In other words, your products or services need to meet standards you have set in your business.

Above all, the goal of SOP’s in your business is to maintain quality. Further to this, to also maintain it in a repetitive manner. That means each and every time you deliver it.

Refer to the simple image of the repetition process below.

Image of Standard Operating Procedure Process Repetition
Standard Operating Procedure Process Repetition

Sounds difficult?

Well yes, it can be difficult. However, it would depend on your type of business. If you have a complex business, you can break everything down into the tiniest tasks and quality manage each task. This is the only way to do it. After that, you would then be heading in the right direction.

Couple this with the right team who are knowledgeable, qualified and appropriate for your business, is going to help you meet those quality goals.


Further definition of an SOP – (Standard Operating Procedure)

Standard operating procedures (SOP’s) are processes. They are documented and ensure services and/or products are delivered the same every single time.

Image of Standard Operating Procedure Manual Template Cover Page

As a business grows, the owner cannot be in one place for everything. SOP’s allow business to grow. They do this by ensuring quality is maintained at all times by management and team members.

Step by Step

Typically, SOP’s or Standard Operating Procedures are step by step instructions. They are very detailed and include tiny steps to ensure that nothing is missed in the manufacturing or delivery process.

It is all about controlling quality as your business grows.


How do SOP’s apply to all of a company?

SOP‘s can be in all areas of a company. For instance, it is not just the manufacturing process or service delivery process that have SOP’s within it. It is also the marketing department, the finance department, the delivery department and any other department.

Lots of relevant information

In other words – that’s a lot of work! More importantly, it needs to be relevant information. Procedures that people will actually use. Otherwise people are at risk.

SOP’s can also apply to safety aspects of personnel tasks. For example, safety SOP’s are instructions on how to keep people safe on a work site.

image of sign Standard Operating Procedures Under Construction
Standard Operating Procedures Under Construction

Clearly you can see that SOP’s can be an extremely important part of a company and allow a company to run smoothly and efficiently.

SOP’s are Needed Because…

As mentioned above, SOP’s allow a business to operate efficiently and safely. They provide an excellent resource for personnel to refer to in their daily work.

Imagine no SOP’s in a large company and trying to deliver a product that is complicated to manufacture? Potentially it would be CHAOS!

Each employee would be completing their tasks on how they thought was best – not as a team and not to any particular quality control. What a nightmare.

SOP’s are critical to deliver anything in a business accurately, efficiently, and to any particular quality.


How Important are SOP’s?

Important or Just a Waste of Time?

What are your thoughts? Are they important or do you think that they are just a waste of time?

Consider the situation below.

Image of SOP Importance
Standard Operating Procedures Importance

Just from the image and text above you can see how important SOP’s are in any business. You might want Standard Operating Procedures when you need them most. They may not seem important or relevant at all times, however when things get hard or difficult, this is when they are most effective.

SOP’s are very important to how your business operates. If you work in an industry where safety is paramount, they become even more important.


So what does an SOP look Like?

Let’s take a look at a real world example of a Standard Operating Procedure from a typical business.

Boeing Aircraft Start Up Example

For example, check out this procedure below which relates to a Boeing Aircraft start up.

Image of Boeing 737- Annotated Standard Operating Procedures
Boeing 737- Annotated Standard Operating Procedures

Source: Scribd

SOP‘s are usually simple to read, are process or task based and consist of a number of steps within the procedures.

There are 3 columns and laid out in a simple to read manner. There is 1 column for Procedure, 1 column for Action and 1 column for Notes.

Also note the instructions in brackets at the top under the headings. These instructions require action in addition to just reading the procedure. This procedure has no step by step direction indicated in a graphic which is beneficial, and it is assumed that the checklist is followed by moving down the list.

It is pretty simple really. The hard part is the quantity of documentation required, and the effort required to put processes in place. Typically, there is usually a lot required.

Let’s take a look at another one

OK, so let’s have a look at another real world procedure. This one is a little bit different.

Image of SOP Example Equipment Cleaning Sanitizing
SOP Example Equipment Cleaning Sanitizing

Source: iastate

So you can see from above, this one is simply a list of what to do. It is simple enough. Possibly presented slightly better and include headings in step format such as, step 1, 2, 3 etc. This would likely make it easier to read without too much more effort of creating the procedure.

It shows when the procedure was last revised. I’m not sure why this is important. Does it really matter when the procedure was last revised? I would think the more important thing is if the procedure is correct, accurate and still relevant.

Anyway, you can see the procedure is simple, easy to read and shows each step in the process for completing the task and also refers to the managers responsibility with regard to the task.

Let’s take a look at a third one

This example below is definitely different. I am not sure I would like to be following the procedures in this organization. Take a look below.

Image of SOP Example Accounting
SOP Example Accounting

You can see it is pretty simple but also graphically doesn’t really have much zing. There are no steps and it looks like a list of items.

This was also in a document with hundreds of pages. Imagine trying to wade through all this?

If you are creating a SOP, it should be easy to read and use and relevant. This means laid out well. Step by step instructions make a massive difference. Include graphics to make the instructions more meaningful.


Enough Examples, how will you create yours?

So, if you need to produce a Standard Operating Procedure Manual, Quality Manual, Policy and Procedure Manual or Employee Handbook you are in for a lot of work.

Note – all of these things are usually the same thing. They just have different names.

It is a great idea to find a template that suits your business instead of starting one from scratch. Digital Documents Direct have a number of options available. Refer to our Standard Operating Procedure Template.

Image of Standard Operating Procedure Manual Template Cover Page

In Conclusion

Standard Operating Procedures are an extremely important part of business.

Important for small business

Image of Tick

If you run a small or medium scale business and don’t have any you should get them immediately. In other words, they are going to help your business run much more smoothly. It is also likely to reduce your stress level.

Create procedures carefully

Image of Tick

Creating procedures should be carefully considered. Just whacking a list of things on a sheet is likely to not do the job well enough. You need to think about it a bit more and lay them out in a manner that makes them easy to read and use.

They need to be relevant

Image of Tick

Remember, they need to be relevant. Irrelevant procedures will simply not get used. People will ignore them and do their own thing, so it is important they are accurate and relevant.

Let your team create them

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You can create your procedures with your team. In fact, they are likely to have a very good understanding of the process. However, you will need to check the procedures and ensure they are suitable, accurate and relevant.

Comment below

Comments are open below. In your experience, what is the best way to create a standard operating procedure and ensure it is useful to your business? Leave a comment below.

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